Challenges for people with intellectual disabilities in law enforcement interactions in Ireland; thematic analysis informed by 1537 person-years' experience.

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Gulati, Gautam
Cusack, Alan
Bogue, John
O'Connor, Anne
Murphy, Valerie
Whelan, Darius
Cullen, Walter
McGovern, Cliona
Kelly, Brendan D.
Fistein, Elizabeth
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Background: People with intellectual disabilities (PWID) are over-represented in criminal justice systems globally. This over-representation reveals itself at once in the demographic make-up of prison populations, as well as those detained in police settings as suspects of crime. While it is well-established in international literature that individuals who find themselves in the latter scenario face particular challenges in negotiating the forensic formalities routinely followed by the police at the pre-trial stage of criminal proceedings on account of their impairments, the specific difficulties experienced by PWID as suspects within Ireland's criminal justice system has yet to be explained, or indeed, understood. In seeking to address this research lacuna, this paper yields an account of a qualitative study which was aimed at identifying the unique challenges which PWID face in their interactions with Law Enforcement Officials (LEOs) in Ireland. Aims: This study aimed to elicit perspectives across a range of disciplines with regard to barriers for PWID interacting with LEOs in Ireland, and sought viewpoints on the content of a proposed awareness programme. Methods: A survey using purposive sampling was used to elicit viewpoints from people from representative organisations for PWID, people working with voluntary organisations for PWID, healthcare professionals working with PWID and professionals from the criminal justice system (including members of An Garda Siochana, lawyers, members of the Irish judiciary and officials within the Airport Police). Data were anonymised at the point of collection. Qualitative thematic analysis was conducted to extract themes based on the data retrieved through the survey. Results: Ninety-five (n = 95) responses were received from individuals reporting a cumulative experience of 1537 person-years. Respondents identified themselves as members of one of three groups; people working in a voluntary or representative organisation for PWID (n = 42, 44.2%); people working in healthcare (n = 31, 32.6%); and people working in law enforcement (n = 22, 23.1%). Three themes were identified from the qualitative thematic analysis. The first theme, “Barriers to Communication”, identified challenges which PWID and LEO experience in their mutual interactions and communications with one another. The second theme, “Building Awareness and Skills”, identified elements of an ID awareness programme for LEOs. The third theme, “Institutional and System Change”, identified possible lines of innovation with respect to contemporary police practice and the availability of supports for both PWID and the LEOs who work with them. Originality/Value: This study represents the first dedicated qualitative inquiry conducted on a multidisciplinary level into the barriers which healthcare professionals, legal professionals and disability advocacy groups perceive to be faced by PWID in their interactions with LEOs in Ireland. Consequently, the findings from this study will act as a valuable template in the direction of informing the development of an ID awareness programme for LEOs in Ireland. In addition, these research findings are expected to usefully inform the development of national policy and protocols in areas related to health, disability and justice. In offering a rich evidence-base for future policy initiatives, the timing of this study is particularly significant. The recent ratification by Ireland of the UN Convention for the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD), together with the synchronous emergence of an evolving emphasis on human rights-based policing at a national level in Ireland, has meant that Irish policymakers have a unique opportunity to re-imagine the pre-trial formalities of Ireland's criminal process in order to demonstrate an increased sensitivity to the needs of PWID. Securing equal access to justice for such individuals, it is important to emphasise, is a legal requirement pursuant to Article 13 of the UNCRPD. To the extent therefore that this study yields unique insights into the barriers faced by PWID in their interactions with LEOs, the results of this study are potentially generalisable to other jurisdictions that have ratified the UNCRPD and are developing policy to accord with Article 13.
Intellectual disabilities , Police , Law enforcement officer , Vulnerability , United Nations' convention on the rights of persons with disabilities , Representative organisations , Judiciary , Garda , Barrister , Solicitor , Mental health , Ireland
Gulati, G., Cusack, A., Bogue, J., O'Connor, A., Murphy, V., Whelan, D., Cullen, W., McGovern, C., Kelly, B. D., Fistein, E., Kilcommins, S. and Dunne, C. P. (2021) 'Challenges for people with intellectual disabilities in law enforcement interactions in Ireland; thematic analysis informed by 1537 person-years' experience', International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 75, 101683 (9 pp). doi: 10.1016/j.ijlp.2021.101683
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